(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.4 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 821,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
About 61.9% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Dec 30, 6:23 pm
US marks 3rd day of record new COVID-19 cases
The U.S. recorded more than 486,000 new COVID-19 cases in a day, marking the third straight day of record numbers, according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new data comes as states are going through their huge backlogs of tests taken during the Christmas weekend.
In the last week, the U.S. has reported more than 2.2 million new cases, which averages out to about 220 Americans testing positive for COVID-19 every minute.
The CDC will not be providing new data updates until Jan. 3, due to the New Year’s holiday.
-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos
Dec 30, 4:28 pm
Michigan health officials urge schools to delay sports
Officials from Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to schools across the state urging them to either postpone large gatherings or make them virtual.
“Large gatherings (involving 100 or more people) should be held using remote technology or postponed, if not essential. Large gatherings would include events with large numbers of people from multiple households such as conferences or meetings, sporting events, and concerts,” the letter read.
The state also urged schools to require masks for everyone who enters school buildings and to test students regularly.
-ABC News’ Will McDuffie
Dec 30, 4:19 pm
US hospitalizations doubled since early November: HHS
More than 90,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, which is double the number since November, according to a memo from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
On average, more than 9,400 Americans are being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 every day, a 20% increase compared to the last week, HHS said.
The hospitalization numbers are still roughly three-quarters of the same period in 2020, the data showed.
-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos and Josh Margolin
Dec 30, 2:50 pm
South Africa may have passed 4th wave: Presidency
Mondli Gungubele, the South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency, tweeted some promising updates on the country’s current COVID-19 surge.
The country’s health department saw a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending Dec. 25 compared to the previous week.
“All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” the minister tweeted.
South Africa was one of the first nations to record the omicron COVID-19 variant and saw cases spike in late November.
The health department said that while the omicron variant is highly transmissible, the country’s hospitalization rates were lower than in previous waves.
South African officials announced they will lift several restrictions, including its curfew and crowd limits for indoor and outdoor activities.
-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou
Dec 30, 2:13 pm
Avoid cruises regardless of vaccination status, CDC says
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans to avoid cruises regardless of COVID vaccination status.
On Thursday, the CDC raised the health notice from a level 3 to a level 4, which is the highest level.
“Since the identification of the omicron variant, there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among cruise passengers and crew reported to CDC,” the agency wrote. “Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of cruise ships meeting the COVID-19 case threshold for CDC investigation.”
More than 80 cruise ships are currently being investigated or observed by the CDC after reports of COVID outbreaks on board.
In response, the Cruise Lines International Association — the largest cruise trade association — called the CDC’s new warning “particularly perplexing” and said cases on ships “consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard.”
-ABC News’ Alexandra Faul, Mina Kaji and Sam Sweeney
Dec 30, 1:02 pm
COVID vaccines are effective in kids, 3 CDC studies say
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in children, three new studies published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find.
The first study, looking at the Pfizer vaccine in 42,000 kids aged 5 to 11 found that side effects from the shot were mostly mild and resolved within a week.
The second study, which examined data from 243 adolescents between ages 12 and 17, found the Pfizer vaccine was 92% effective at preventing COVID infection.
The final study found less than 1% of eligible children between ages 5 and 17 who were hospitalized with COVID in July and August were fully vaccinated.
“I think these studies taken as a whole confirm what we’ve been saying all along, which is that these vaccines are incredibly safe and effective,” ABC News medical contributor Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, said.
-ABC News’ Katie Kindelan
Dec 30, 12:37 pm
75% of people in UK with cold symptoms actually have COVID, study says
About 75% of people in the U.K. experiencing new cold-like symptoms actually have symptomatic COVID-19, a new study suggests.
Health science company ZOE, which has been conducting the ongoing study with King’s College London, said the figure is based on a decline in the number of non-COVID “colds” and a sustained increase in symptomatic COVID cases.
Dr Claire Steves, scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app and Reader at King’s College London, said she wants the U.K. government’s list of symptoms to be updated to include headache, runny nose and sore throat.
“The fact that 75% of new cold-like symptoms are COVID, and the classic symptoms are much less common, means the government advice needs to be urgently updated,” she said in a release Thursday.
On Wednesday, the U.K. recorded a record-high 183,037 cases of COVID-19, more than double the figure reported at this time last year.
Dec 30, 10:25 am
FDA and NIH studying why omicron variant may affect rapid tests
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says “studies are underway” examining why the omicron variant may make rapid COVID tests less effective.
Stephanie Caccomo, a spokeswoman for the FDA, told ABC News the agency will collaborate with the National Health Institute’s (NIH) Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program and select a variety of rapid tests to study.
However, Dr. Bruce Tromberg of the NIH — who is leading these studies — said Americans shouldn’t be discouraged from using rapid tests.
Tromberg told ABC’s Dr. Mark Abdelmalek that rapid tests are “extremely powerful and effective” at identifying people who are infected, with COVID which prevents them from spreading the virus.
“I have confidence that the tests that we have on our shelves can pick up omicron,” Tromberg added.
Testing companies also stressed that their tests still work to detect omicron, with Abbott saying Tuesday that the company has tested the popular BinaxNOW rapid test and found “equivalent sensitivity” compared to prior variants.
-ABC News’ Sony Salzman
Dec 30, 5:34 am
UK plans surge hospitals as ‘war footing’ for omicron
Hospitals across England were setting up “Nightingale surge hubs,” temporary structures capable of handling 100 patients, as they prepared for a potential wave of omicron patients.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service announced the plan on Thursday, a day after health officials recorded a new daily high for COVD-19 infections.
“Given the high level of COVID-19 infections and increasing hospital admissions, the NHS is now on a war footing,” NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said in a statement on Thursday.
The NHS said it would start with hubs at eight hospitals around the country. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement that an additional 4,000 beds could be added if necessary.
“We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place,” Powis said.
Dec 30, 4:14 am
UK, Italy, Greece report record new daily cases
The United Kingdom, Italy and Greece broke records on Wednesday for daily new COVID-19 cases, according to government health officials.
The Greek government reported a record increase for new cases for a third consecutive day with 28,828 new cases and 72 COVID-19-related deaths.
About 64.3% of the population is fully vaccinated and 26.5% have received a booster or third dose, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris announced on Wednesday that new restrictions will go into effect on Jan. 3, but Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper reported that the government has decided to put them into effect at 6 p.m. local time on Thursday.
Italian health authorities recorded another record increase on Wednesday with 98,0303 new COVID-19 cases and 148 deaths.
Semi-official ANSA reported Wednesday’s positivity rate is 9.5% and there are 1,185 patients in ICUs. About 51.7% of Italy’s residents are fully vaccinated and 24.9% have received a booster or 3rd dose, per the ECDC.
UK health officials recorded 183,037 new cases and 57 deaths. The record-setting new case number included five days of data from Northern Ireland, which last published data on Dec. 24, according to health officials.
About 82.3% of adults in the UK have received two vaccine doses and 57.5% have received a booster, according to government data.
-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou
Dec 29, 7:35 pm
Fauci backs CDC isolation recommendations
Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on ABC News Live Wednesday and shared his thoughts on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to lower its recommended isolation period to five days for asymptomatic patients.
Fauci also said that while new evidence shows omicron may be less severe than delta, people should still be cautious of contracting and spreading the virus.
“You can get people safely back out in a five day period so long as they wear a mask, if they are without symptoms. That is the science,” he told ABC News Live. “The impact of that is to try and not be in a situation where we essentially have to shut down the entire country.”
Fauci also said it would be too premature to be less worried based on evidence that omicron may be less severe.
“We are heartened by the fact that from the South African data, the data from the U.K., and the accumulating data in the United States that it looks like it is less severe,” he said. “It’s much more transmissible, which is something you need to take seriously.”
Dec 29, 6:10 pm
FDA authorizes 2 new at-home COVID-19 test kits
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to two over-the-counter COVID-19 tests.
The tests are manufactured by SD Biosensor and Siemens.
“Combined, it is estimated the companies can produce tens of millions of tests per month for use in the U.S.,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
-ABC News’ Sony Salzman
Dec 29, 2:24 pm
4 Smithsonian locations closed
Four Smithsonian locations in Washington, D.C., have closed due to an increase in COVID-19 cases over the last few days.
The four museums — the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum and the National Museum of Asian Art — are expected to reopen Jan. 3.
The Smithsonian said the cases and quarantine periods impacted “essential and operational staff,” so these closures “will allow the Smithsonian to reallocate staff and keep all other museums open for the remainder of the week.”
The Smithsonian closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and loccations started to reopen in May 2021.
-ABC News’ Beatrice Peterson
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.